Civics 101

We are a republic: Elected officials speak for us. Candidates will be imperfect, systems are imperfect. Continue the fight for reforms while still electing the best possible candidate who will progress, not regress. Who will be your voice? Stay silent, and someone else will speak for you.

Check whether you are registered to vote and Register if you are not through TurboVote at Mi Familia Vota or Rock the Vote and specifically for California residents, California Online Voter Registration.

The Electoral Process

The right to vote is a foundation of the American system. The electoral process involves many factors:

  • the laws governing how candidates can run (campaign finance reform, Super PACS, PACS, lobbyists, donations)
  • the tactics employed in running campaigns (phone banks, canvassing, social media, advertising)
  • how candidates are chosen (primaries, national convention, party machinations)
  • the actual voting process (who can vote, voter ID and suppression laws, when voting is available, how one can vote)
  • how votes are tallied and a winner chosen (how votes are counted in terms of the systems used, the Electoral College, delegates, super delegates)

The Constitution has many dictates as to when elections happen and who can vote and the process involved in national elections. The Center for Voting and Democracy noted that voting rights are not federally protected or guaranteed by the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court declared in Bush v. Gore that “[t]he individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.”

The Constitution grants the states broad power to prescribe the times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives. Thus, states have broad power to prescribe the procedural mechanisms for holding congressional elections within parameters of the Constitution but these powers are broad: times and places, notices, registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters, prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes, duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of election returns. Control and regulation of state and municipal elections rest entirely with the state.

For democracy to work, you need an educated public that knows the system, holds representatives accountable, and who demand transparency from the local level all the way up to the President.

Executive Branch

EXECUTIVE ORDERS (EOs) are legally binding orders given by the President, acting as the head of the Executive Branch, to Federal Administrative Agencies. Executive Orders are generally used to direct federal agencies and officials in their execution of congressionally established laws or policies. However, in many instances they have been used to guide agencies in directions contrary to congressional intent.

Executive Orders do not require Congressional approval to take effect but they have the same legal weight as laws passed by Congress.

Source: The President’s source of authority to issue Executive Orders can be found in the Constitution.

Examples: Harry Truman integrated the armed forces under Executive Order. President Eisenhower used an EO to desegregate schools. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson used them to bar racial discrimination in federal housing, hiring, and contracting. President Reagan used an EO to bar the use of federal funds for advocating abortion. President Bill Clinton reversed this order.

How to challenge EOs? If Congress does not like what the executive branch is doing, it has two main options. First, it may rewrite or amend a previous law, or spell it out in greater detail how the Executive Branch must act. Of course, the President has the right to veto the bill if he disagrees with it, so, in practice, a 2/3 majority if often required to override an Executive Order.

In addition to congressional recourse, Executive Orders can be challenged in court, usually on the grounds that the Order deviates from “congressional intent” or exceeds the President’s constitutional powers.

Legislative Branch

Voteocracy has an easy-to-follow, succinct description of how Congress works.

Every state has two senators. You also have one representative in the House based on your district. To know your Senators, district name and number, and Congressmember go here.

The Congress, in general, passes laws — keep up to date on which laws they are passing when. They are supposed to act in your best interest and only you can hold them accountable.

The Senate roll call vote tallies are posted online within an hour of the vote.  You can view today’s votes or use the vote tables to look at any roll call vote taken since the 101st Congress (1989).

The House roll call vote tallies are posted online directly following the vote.  You can view votes from this Congress or use the archives to look at any roll call vote taken since the 101st Congress, 2nd session (1990).

Local Government

What does an Assembly District Delegate (ADD) do? (This is not an endorsement of California Progressives and is for educational purposes only)

Officially, ADDs plan and attend informational meetings throughout the region and work with other delegates to represent their community.

They are also elected by voters in their district to vote on behalf of the community they represent at Regional Meetings, the California Democrats Convention, and those who are also elected to serve as an Executive Board member are responsible for voting and representing their community at the semi-annual E-Board meetings.

A delegate cannot put forth legislation but where a delegate stands on issues is critical because she can vote on the party’s platform and vet the candidate pool from which voters ultimately choose.

Bottom line: One vote for me means numerous votes for the progressive agenda and candidates .

How many delegates are voted in?

You have one vote for one delegate. The Assembly District Election Meetings (ADEMs) are held every two years (Saturday, January 7 or Sunday, January 8 of 2017) to elect 7 women and 7 men to be Assembly District Delegates (ADDs) for their area.

It’s time for these elections to be taken more seriously and for us to participate at this level so when it comes time for the positions on the national level, we have all the pieces in place.